11 June 2012Acts 11:19-30
"The disciples determined that according to their ability, each would send relief to the believers living in Judea." (v. 29)
This passage appears immediately after Peter recalls his vision
to explain why he had eaten in a non-Jewish household (Acts
11:1-18). It ends with the phrase "God has given even to the
Gentiles the repentance that leads to life" (v. 18). What then
follows is the beginning of the spread of the gospel (the good news
about Jesus) beyond the boundaries of the Jewish community, to the
non-Jews - the Gentiles.
In Acts 8 after Stephen had been killed, the believers scattered for safety (Acts 8:1). Chapter 11 now picks up the story of what happened to those who went to Antioch where they began preaching not just to the Jews but to the Greeks as well. The news of these non-Jewish conversions reached the church in Jerusalem and so they sent Barnabus to Antioch. What he sees is evidence of "the grace of God" (v. 23) in the new believers and he rejoices in that. He recognises that these converts need teaching and encouraging in the faith. Barnabus goes to Tarsus to bring Saul (Paul) back to Antioch. It is believed that Paul had been living in Tarsus for seven or eight years having gone there for his safety after receiving death threats (Acts 9:29). Barnabus recognised the gifts and skills that Paul possessed and knew him to be a good preacher. He would also have been aware of Paul's call to preach to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15). Paul's arrival in Antioch to share in the ministry to the Gentiles, brings about an important development in the history of the Church.
It is at Antioch that the name "Christian" (v. 26) is first given to the believers. This would imply that their teaching was very Christ-focused, with an emphasis on Jesus being the Messiah (the Christ), the fulfilment of prophecy.
Spirited-inspired prophecy was important in the ministry of the Early Church and in verse 28 we read of a prophecy from Agabus that a famine would strike. The believers at Antioch thought of how they could help their fellow believers in Judea. There was a strong sense of community and sharing amongst all the believers regardless of where they were geographically. They were united by their faith in Christ Jesus.
Barnabus recognised the gifts of Paul and involved him in an important aspect of the Church's ministry. We need people like Barnabus in the Church; those who recognise the gifts and skills in others and encourage them in appropriate ways. How good are you at recognising the gifts and skills in others and how they could serve? Who do you need to encourage in your church?
Do we still have a strong sense of community and sharing across all Christians today, as they did in the Early Church? Why, or why not?